Being a Douglas Adams fan for most of my life, it’s odd that I never gave this show a try sooner. Granted, BBC shows weren’t always the easiest things to catch on PBS, particularly the less serious ones. Locally, I think they only broadcast Mr. Bean and Red Dwarf after midnight on saturday. I did catch the odd bit here and there; I vividly remember watching Dr. Who and the Daleks starring Peter Cushing on a lazy saturday morning, which I don’t believe is even considered part of the continuity. And at the video store the covers didn’t exactly jump out at me. “Hey kids! Don’t you wanna see this movie with a hobbit looking dude and a rubber masked monster superimposed over a lovely puke-green background?”. Pass.
It’s on my radar. I’m aware of it. It’s on my list of things to do. And that’s where it stays for most of my life.
Until Russell T. Davies. A dude who was born around the time that Doctor Who first aired, and decided to spearhead a revival after Who had been dormant for over a decade. Landed Christopher Eccleston in the title role, and decided to “sex” it up a bit for the new millenium (Not the least of this “sexing” is Billie Piper as Rose, a woman so preternaturally gorgeous that she ends up being the best special effect on the show). I rent it from the library, enjoy the hell out of it, and when Eccleston leaves after the end of season one I kind of lose interest. Again, until Netflix on the tele.
I’ve only really seen Eccleston and the new bloke David Tennant in the role, so I’m not sure if the character has always been like this, but their performances are pretty much the same; Doctor Who is like an excitable child, always curious and willing to plunge foolishly headfirst into danger. And, somewhat surprisingly for an ancient being, is highly moralistic, making snap judgements about people and places that he comes across. There’s something distinctly british about this trait of stumbling into other peoples cultures and telling them all what they’re doing wrong, but that’s also becoming an American attribute more and more.
The blend of complete stonefaced seriousness with total goofy camp is one thing that keeps bringing me back. In how many episodes does The Doctor say “Unfortunately, I only had time to save one of them”? Um. . . time machine? This would be a fatal flaw in a show that took itself too seriously, but here it just works. At the same time, the characters are fully fleshed out 3-dimensional beings, and it’s that attention to detail that really sucks you into the narrative. The Cybermen are a goofy foe, not terrifying at all, but you believe the fear in Tennant’s eyes when he sees them coming.
British tv has some of the smartest (The Office) and dumbest (MI-5) shows out there, and Doctor Who lands nicely in the middle. Closer to smart, I would say, because it seems like they know what they’re doing with the camp elements. Consider me hooked.